Arequipa and American friends!

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
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Trip End Aug 01, 2008


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Friday, November 2, 2007

This was a special time for us and such a treat 3 months into our trip. We boogied quickly through Bolivia because we had to make our way back up to Lima, Peru to fly to Brazil in November. On our way north towards Lima we stopped in a large city called Arequipa. Arequipa was founded in the 1500's and is surrounded by several volcanoes. It is known as "the white city" because of the many buildings there that are built from a light-colored volcanic rock called sillar that sparkles in the sun. A good friend of ours from home, Gregg McLaughlin, had connected us via email with his good friends, the Chapmans (also from Southern California), who had moved their family to Peru this past summer so that they can continue working with the ministry Every Generations Ministries (www.egmworld.org). They are currently in Arequipa at a language school to learn spanish. We stayed with them for the weekend and during this time we learned that we have a lot of mutual friends in common in the Southern California area! They have 2 precious children, Eliana who is 2 and a half and the cutest, spunkiest redhead I know, and Josiah, a 14-month old explorer who is on the move! After a handful of email communications over the past few months, we showed up at their door at 9 p.m. after a full day of travel from Bolivia and they lovingly welcomed us into their home. We had such a great time with them, connecting with them in a way we have not been able to do with other travelers who do not come from our Southern California culture, and we loved playing with the kids. We even got to babysit for the kiddos so that John and Heather could have a night out! We loved being in a cozy home so it was a treat for us too! After living in mostly one-room hostels for the past few months, having a place to stay where you can move from room to room and do this barefoot, is something we do not take for granted!
The timing was perfect for a cultural experience as well as we arrived at their home the night after Halloween. We really did not know much about how or if Latin America celebrates Halloween but we learned much about it during our time in Arequipa. The short story of it all that I can remember is that there is about a 3-day period of celebration including "Day of the Dead" and "All Saints Day" that goes from the 31st to November 2nd. It is a mix of Catholic traditions and the more indigenous peoples' traditions. Many believe that their dead family members return to earth for about a 24-hour period between Nov. 1-Nov. 2 and that the families can share meals with them. Many families decorate their homes with flowers and cook this special bread (I cannot remember the name) but it is in the shape of a person with a clay face cooked into it. They also cook the foods that the deceased member liked and "share" the food with them. Some families stay at home to do this but many go to the cemeteries. We had the opportunity to visit 2 of the cemeteries in Arequipa with John and Heather's language school on a fieldtrip. It was an interesting day for sure. The first cemetery was the public one and it was FULL. Some parts of it look like you would picture a cemetery with small plots of space for each person and a cross or so...some parts of the cemetery are huge, long rows of spaces next to one another (about 10 high and 20 across), and the wealthiest families purchase mausoleums (like small houses) where many families members can be buried in their coffins. There were tons of people there bringing flowers and visiting the graves. The 2nd cemetery was more on the outskirts of the city and as we learned, more for the indigenous people who do not live in the city. This is where we saw people singing, dancing, crying, drinking (a lot), and eating all sorts of random combinations of food that was spread out on the grave site. We were definitely the only tourists there and we felt the many stares of people around us. We took some pictures but pretty quickly started to have mixed feelings about using a camera. Some people seemed not to mind that we wanted to capture the experience on film but others were not so comfortable with it. We learned through the process that some indigenous people feel that when you take their picture you take their soul. I realize that we sound like very ugly tourists at the moment but we really were trying to be as discreet and respectful as possible. To our credit, our teachers/guides for the fieldtrip did not warn us about this and in fact, told us it was fine to take pictures.
While in Arequipa, we did some city touring that led us to a FANTASTIC museum called the Museo Santuarios Andinos that allowed us to learn more about the fascinating Incan culture. The visit included a short video and a stroll through a musuem with the final exhibit being the preserved body of a young girl, Juanita, known as the Ice Princess. She was sacrificed by the Incas about 500 years ago during a ritual that was fairly common on the top of a mountain. The Incas believed that when volcanoes erupted that the gods were angry so in order to appease the gods, they sacrificed children who were considered to be pure and beautiful (these children had been prepared for their sacrifice their entire lives and felt that it was an honor to do so). The amazing thing about Juanita is that her body was frozen (due to the high altitude and presence of snow on the mountain) so that when they found her in the late 1900s, her skin, hair, and organs had all been preserved! It was so neat to learn about her and the culture and then to see her in person, as well as clothing and ceramics that had been recovered from sacrifices of other children on various mountains in South America. They are still conducting research on Juanita's body to try to learn more about the customs and traditions of the Incas. Can you tell that we loved this museum? 
This is a great city and we are so glad to have been there and to have met friends that I hope we will stay in touch with for many years to come! 
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